The fatal shooting of Justine Damond by a Minneapolis police officer has elicited strong reactions, from Mayor Betsy Hodges to Australia’s prime minister, who this week demanded answers in what he called a “shocking killing.”
But one voice was conspicuously missing: that of the union that represents the city’s 860-plus police officers.
In the days since the shooting on the city’s southwest side, Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll has repeatedly declined requests for comment on the shooting of the 40-year-old woman by officer Mohamed Noor.
The normally outspoken Kroll said he would wait until the completion of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation into the incident.
When pressed on the union’s silence, Kroll said this week that he was vilified after he publicly defended the two officers involved in the November 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark.
Kroll said that Hodges and Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau “condemned me for my swift response” after he came to the defense of the two officers involved, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze. Both were later cleared in separate federal, state and internal probes.
“The chief came out one complete year later and regurgitated what I said,” Kroll said in a series of text messages Tuesday. “But I was the hated [one] for it all.”
Kroll said he came out in defense of the officers in the Clark case only after speaking with their attorney. “In this case, I don’t know the facts of it,” Kroll said. “His attorney is handling and the Federation is remaining silent. This is how our board and attorney decided to handle this one.”
Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, did not respond to requests for comment.
Police officials declined to comment on Kroll’s statements, and a spokesman for Hodges didn’t immediately respond to a message on Wednesday.
One City Council member was quick to point out that the union, usually a staunch supporter of cops accused of misconduct, hadn’t weighed in on the controversy.
“I don’t know how they do things; I think there’s a misperception that City Council is very close to them, or does their bidding, or has any control over them, and that’s just simply not true,” said Council Member Blong Yang, who chairs the Public Safety Committee. “I’d expect that they’re going to say something at some point — that’s their job.”
Not only has the union rushed to the defense of other officers involved in on-duty shootings, but it issued a lengthy, supportive statement after a Minneapolis police officer shot and wounded two dogs in a north Minneapolis backyard earlier this month. The incident was captured on home security video.
But the silence from the union in the Noor case is deafening, said Michael Padden, an attorney representing the dogs’ owner and a veteran litigator in lawsuits involving law enforcement. “It’s kind of surprising that they’re not saying anything, not even a quasi-supportive statement of ‘Wait until the investigation is done,’ ” Padden said.
Earlier this year, the union publicly backed officer Christopher Reiter, who was charged with assault after a security video caught him kicking a suspect in the face. The statement cautioned against rushing to judgment before all the facts are in, saying Reiter “deserves the same presumption of innocence every citizen is afforded in our justice system.”
The lack of response in the most recent shooting hasn’t been lost on some black officers. According to department sources, some officers have vented their frustration with Kroll over what they interpreted as a lack of support for Noor, who is Somali-American. Damond is white.
But Al Berryman, a past union president, said Kroll was doing right by staying quiet until he knows more.
“Cops want you to support them, but when they do something that’s questionable ... and you don’t have any evidence, you’ve gotta shut up,” said Berryman, who has been following the case via news reports from his home in Montana.